As tidal current and marine hydro-kinetic energy converters start to be deployed in pre-commercial arrays, it is critical that the design conditions are properly characterized. Turbulence is known to influence fatigue loads and power production, so developers use turbulence models to generate unsteady flows in order to simulate device performance. Most such models construct a synthetic flow field using a combination of measured parameters and theoretical assumptions. The majority in use today are based on atmospheric flow conditions and may have limited applicability in tidal environments. In the present work, we compare key turbulence model assumptions (which are recommended by the tidal turbine standards and are used in design software) to turbulence measurements from two tidal test sites in Scotland and Canada. Here, we show that the two sites have different levels of conformity to theoretical models, with significant variability within nearby locations at the same site. The agreement with spectral models is shown to be depth-dependent. The vertical component spectrum is better represented by the Kaimal model, while the stream-wise spectrum is better represented by the von Kármán model. With the exception of one site, the shear profiles follow a power law, although with a different exponent to that commonly assumed. Both sites show significant deviations from the theoretical length scales and isotropy ratios. Such deviations are likely to misrepresent the loads experienced by a device. These results highlight the turbulence characteristics at real deployment sites, which are not well represented by current models, and, hence, which must be determined using field measurements.